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Social media is one of the most important marketing channels for brands, as it offers unique opportunities to communicate with customers.
But getting social media strategy right isn’t an easy task, and the brands that are achieving the best results tend to be those that are taking risks and trying new things.
With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how major brands use social, focusing on which of the main networks they are active on and how they use them.
And what better place to start that with the world’s biggest retailer: Walmart. Handily Walmart has actually published its own social media guidelines, which include things like 'don't be rude' and 'keep it real'.
So here's a quick look at how Walmart uses Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google+.
Walmart has put a huge amount of effort into developing its Facebook presence and has embraced the timeline to showcase how the brand has grown over time.
It has populated its timeline with an image for almost every year since it was established in 1962, although many just show when Walmart opened a store in a new US state.
The retailer has clocked up a whopping 26m fans – an increase of 9m since last July – and keeps them entertained with a confusingly broad range of updates.
A majority of Walmart’s posts are just product suggestions, but it also includes caption competitions and sports chat, as well as trumpeting its sustainability credentials.
On any given day it will post between two and five updates, including weekends, and most achieve an impressive number of responses from its fans. Most of its posts achieve tens of thousands of ‘likes’ and hundreds of comments, with pictures of pets and children proving to be particularly popular.
However not everything Walmart touches on Facebook turns to gold. In October 2011 it partnered with the social network to create 3,500 pages for its local stores across the US.
The idea was to build brand loyalty with “enhanced local interaction at an unprecedented scale", but as of last September the results were far from encouraging.
Research by Recommend.ly found that the local pages had managed to add just 2m fans in 10 months, while the main Walmart brand page had added 10.5m fans in the same period.
Furthermore, a majority of the local stores have between 101 and 1,000 fans, while just 4% have more than 1,000, despite the fact that they were updated on a regular basis with photos and videos.
Walmart mainly uses Twitter to post questions, with topics including sports, caption contests and requests for retweets if users agree with a certain statement.
Most of its tweets only get a handful of responses, and it does a good job of answering those users.
However it also responds to hundreds of tweets a day from other users, and has the hashtag #WalmartElves to help customers who are looking for gift inspiration.
Clearly Walmart sees the value of using Twitter to engage with its customers rather than just using it to churn out marketing messages. It has managed to clock up 307,000 followers, which is impressive but still someway behind rival retailer Target which has more than half a million.
Walmart also operates several other Twitter accounts that focus on its sustainable initiatives, healthy food, charity and community programs. However these are far less popular than its main account, and all have around 10,000 followers.
Walmart appears to have two Pinterest accounts; one aimed more at product ideas and one that promotes green living. The product-focused account has more than 12,000 followers and has created 65 boards, while the green living account has just over 2,000 followers.
The main account uses fantastic imagery to promote creative ideas and special occasions such as Mother’s Day and Easter, and created seven new boards for Christmas alone.
A majority of its pins link back to the Walmart ecommerce site, but it also occasionally pins content from third party sites and it own Tumblr as well.
In September Walmart launched its first competition on Pinterest, offering users the chance to win a $500 gift card by sharing images of products that help them to live more eco-friendly lives using the hashtag #WalmartGreen.
According to its own information, the competition received hundreds of entries.
Assuming it’s a real account, Walmart joined Google+ back in December 2011 and has posted a whopping two updates since then.
Walmart is extremely active through its other social channels, so I’m dubious that this one is real but in truth there’s no other reason to doubt its validity.
If anything, Google should be quite concerned that Walmart has neglected to maintain a G+ page while putting so much effort into other social networks, though I doubt Eric Schmidt will lose any sleep over it.